One of the advantages of seeing my twenties behind me is that as I get older, I no longer feel as strong a need to make others like me. Sure, there’s immediate family, close friends, and those whom I wish to curry favor with in the hopes of future gain, but in general I am by now a confirmed misanthrope.
Fortunately, my fellow Canadians are not nearly as curmudgeonly as I am. In fact, judging from some of the reactions to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s stance on the current Mideast conflict, Canadians are as desirous of being liked as you could wish.
For those of you not au courant on the latest in Canadian foreign policy circles, Stephen Harper’s bold stance in support of Israel has caused a bit of a flurry (as it were) here in the North. For a very long time (current historical and dendro-chronological estimates put it at about a century or two), Liberal leader Jean Chretien was Prime Minister, until he was succeeded for a very short time (so short that if you went to bed one evening and overslept the next morning by a couple of hours you might have missed it) by Paul Martin. Chretien and Martin, although belonging to the same party, feuded terribly and, to the delight of the opposition, publicly; but both seemed agreed in formulating foreign policy according to the maxim that whatever causes least offense is best, unless causing it to the Americans. In practice, this meant that when the Iranians tortured Canadian photojournalist Zahra Khazemi to death, we sent a strongly worded letter to the Iranian embassy, but when the Americans reneged on a softwood lumber deal we took them to the Court of International Trade.
Harper and Hamas were elected a day apart, and one of his first acts was to suspend aid to the fledgling terrorist government – thereby making Canada the first country to do so. (He would also make the long overdue decision to designate the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist group, reversing years of cynical Liberal pandering to the vote-rich Tamil community.) When the current conflict began, Harper made the seemingly outlandish claim that it was rooted in the fact that “the current Palestinian government is not committed to a peace process,” and, furthermore, that “there is an immediate crisis because of the actions of Hamas and the actions of Hezbollah.” He topped this off by calling for the end of “Hezbollah attacks on Israel”.
[Disclosure: I twice voted for Stephen Harper; once, when I expressed my intention of doing so to a colleague, I was met with the sort of horrified reaction usually reserved for people witnessing a horrible accident, followed quickly thereafter by accusations that I had been “duped”.]
Although he followed these statements with the largest mass evacuation of civilians in Canadian history, even escorting some home from Lebanon in his personal government jet (prompting some to wonder, “Haven’t they suffered enough?”), many in the opposition and not a few letter writers expressed indignation that Harper had not called for an “immediate ceasefire” or even a little “restraint”.
Jack Layton, the leader of the socialist NDP, decried the fact Canada was not sufficiently “distancing ourselves from the policies of the Bush administration”, it being considered quite sporting in the Canadian political establishment to accuse people you wish to deride of slavish devotion to the Bush administration. One letter writer, developing this theme, said Harper became “more puppet-like every day. When his master George snaps his fingers, Harper begs for biscuits.” While certainly graphic imagery that gets his point across admirably, it is not an entirely original idea to accuse those exhibiting any kind of commonality with the Bush administration of canine behavior; the idea, you will recall, was first popularized by the former Iraqi Information Minister. And a surprising number of people, among them some who wouldn’t know a foreign policy if it slapped them across the face with a subpoena from the Court of International Trade, dismissed Harper, a man the Economist described as intelligent and thoughtful, and who spent years formulating policy for the National Citizens’ Coalition, as a political “neophyte” who would do best to leave this sort of thing for his elders to sort out.
There were calls for Canada to send a “peacekeeping force”, despite the fact that, thanks to the Liberals’ budget-slashing measures, the entire Canadian peacekeeping force could probably be squeezed into a single Tim Horton’s with room to spare – and, come to think of it, probably is. Others expressed their concern that by taking a stand, Canada was forfeiting its role as a “mediator” and “peacemaker” in the Middle East. You would hear, for instance, a lot of bandying about of the term “honest broker” – an honest broker, presumably, being a person who says a lot of dishonest things about culpability being shared equally between parties whose relationship is irreparably broken. Many of those lamenting Canada’s storied peacemaking past would be surprised to learn that at no point during any of the significant breakthroughs in Mideast peace diplomacy – ranging from the first Camp David accords in 1978, through Oslo and the last Camp David negotiations in 2000, all the way to the so-called “Roadmap for Peace” – were Canadians in any way making themselves conspicuous by their presence. “Honest broker” in this usage is nothing more than shorthand for an ineffectual and unprincipled strategy of doing nothing, which may get us liked, but will never get us respected.
Oscar Wilde once said, “How many people are shocked by honesty, and how few by deceit.” Particularly, he might have added, when they’ve had so few opportunities to witness it in previous governments. Here’s hoping we’re in for a few more honest shocks from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.